The council-house single mother of seven divorced against her will
Rabbis issue ‘get’ at husband’s request
A London woman this week expressed shock at the prospect of being divorced by a rabbinical court against her will — in part because she allegedly wore clothes it deemed “provocative”.
Karin Gabay, a single mother of seven living in a council house, said she was “devastated” and “completely shocked” by the Sephardi Bet Din decision. She has been in dispute with her former husband over maintenance payments.
The Bet Din — whose action has placed it at odds with other rabbinical courts — explained that it acted in Mrs Gabay’s best interests to ensure she would be free to remarry.
Under Jewish law, if a man refuses his wife a get, a religious bill of divorce, she is considered an agunah, a chained woman denied the right to remarriage.
However, if a woman refuses to accept a get, the rabbinical authorities may intervene to release the husband from the marriage. Mrs Gabay and her husband Asaf underwent a civil divorce last year.
A spokesman for the Sephardi Bet Din (SBD) said that after Mrs Gabay had ignored three requests to contact the Bet Din, the get was issued “to protect [her] from becoming an agunah, as her ex-husband had raised the threat that, if the get was not issued now, he would never co-operate in giving a get”.
The spokesman said that in the event of Mrs Gabay not accepting the get, the rabbinical court would consider the option of applying a get zikkui — divorcing her without her consent. Normally, rabbinic courts resort to this only in the case of adultery.
The grounds for a get zikkui are set out in a document written in rabbinic Hebrew by the SBD head, Dayan Saadia Amor. It cites complaints of religious laxity against an unnamed woman, including that she “dressed provocatively, worse than a common harlot”.
Mr Gabay told the JC that his ex-wife had been seen in “mini-skirts with long nails and hair extensions”. But Mrs Gabay protested: “I dress respectfully, I keep Shabbat in the house. I do not know why they are talking about what I wear.”
The SBD spokesman said the document used a complex set of arguments in Jewish law intended to ensure that Mrs Gabay was not left an agunah. “We are all too aware of situations… where a religious divorce is not granted, thereby hindering both the man and the woman to remarry. The Sephardi Bet Din is utterly committed to address such problems, recognising that fractured families do not need to be punished further through the delay of a [get].”
The Sephardi Bet Din licenses a restaurant Mr Gabay runs, Chopstix, and Sami’s, a restaurant owned by his father.
Mrs Gabay said she did not attend the Sephardi court as the London Beth Din had been handling her case. The London Beth Din wrote last month to the Sephardi court expressing surprise over its involvement.
Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, head of the Federation Beth Din, said he did not agree with the SBD. “I don’t think there are grounds for a get zikkui here.”
Sharon Shenhav, head of a women’s-rights project, condemned the decision: “Jewish women have the right to expect to be treated with fairness and justice.”
Bet Din grants husband a ‘get’
The latest controversy to erupt over a Jewish divorce case is among the most extraordinary reported in years.
Asaf (Asi) and Karin Gabay were originally married and divorced in Israel, remarried in London in 2000 and then obtained a civil divorce here last year.
But in order to be able to marry another partner in an Orthodox synagogue, they need a get — a religious bill of divorce. A get must be voluntarily given by the man and accepted by the woman. If her husband denies her a get, the wife is left trapped as an agunah — a chained woman — who cannot remarry according to Jewish law.
But the rabbis have more flexibility when it comes to men. If a wife refuses a get, the rabbinical courts may still grant her husband permission to remarry (on the grounds that biblical law permits polygamy).
In some instances, a rabbinical court will issue a get to the husband without his wife’s consent — a device known as a get zikkui. But this is generally only used in cases of proven adultery in Jewish law, for example if the wife contracts a civil marriage to another man without having first obtained a get.
The arguments over the Gabays’ second divorce — unusual in itself — first began in the Beth Din of the Federation of Synagogues in London. Its head, Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, told the JC: “The Federation was approached by Mr Gabay to arrange a get. We were dealing with it for half a year. Mr Gabay invited me to make a get unilaterally. Our position was, we could not do that.”
The case next moved to Dayan Yonatan Abraham of the London Beth Din — which Mrs Gabay still believes should be dealing with it. Meanwhile, Mr Gabay turned to another UK rabbinic court, the Sephardi Bet Din — which licenses both the restaurant he runs, Chopstix, and Sami’s, the restaurant owned by his father — to sort out a get amid continuing dispute with his ex-wife over maintenance.
Despite the London Beth Din writing to the Sephardi Bet Din last month to express surprise at its intervention, the latter says that Mr Gabay told them that at no time had he been contacted by the London Beth Din to grant a get.
According to a spokesman for the Sephardi Bet Din, Mrs Gabay refused three requests to attend it — after which its rabbinical judges took steps to free the couple from the marriage.
It has issued a get for Mrs Gabay to collect. But if she does not, it has also made the case for applying the special get zikkui, which would dissolve the marriage without her consent.
According to the Sephardi Bet Din spokesman, “The get was issued to protect Mrs Gabay from becoming an agunah and is awaiting her collection. The procedure adopted was primarily for the benefit of the wife and to protect her claims. This was done in her best interest, as she is already divorced in the civil courts. We are also committed to ensure a fair financial settlement.”
The argument for the get zikkui is set out in a document written in Hebrew by Dayan Saadia Amor, head of the Sephardi Bet Din. It speaks of a woman who “dressed provocatively in public, worse than a common harlot” and stands accused of other lapses in religious conduct, concluding that it is “permissible to divorce her”.
But warning that both the intention and detail of the document could be misunderstood, the Sephardi spokesman said that the translation offered by the JC was “inaccurate”, although declining to provide an alternative. “Any interpretation must be made in the light of the normal, technical rabbinic language used,” he said. “At no time has the Sephardi Bet Din itself impugned the character of any party.”
Mrs Gabay remains unappeased. “The Sephardi Bet Din did not have any evidence to do something like this,” she said. She has written to the Sephardi Bet Din to ask them to ignore the get zikkui; to state that she will accept a get once a “fair decision” is made; and to ask the dayanim to issue a letter “clearing me of any allegations... that may bring harm against my children”.
She told the JC: “I feel really humiliated and ashamed. I am a mother of seven kids and it comes to a point where a rabbi calls me a slut. My eldest daughter was sobbing.”
The bet din ruling: ‘worse than a harlot’
Dayan Saadia Amor, head of the UK’s Sephardi Bet Din, sets out the reasoning behind his decision, in a document which poses a question and then, citing sources, gives a lengthy responsum. It was translated for the JC by Mordechai Beck.
A couple divorced according to the civil courts, but the husband has yet to give a get... During the civil divorce proceedings, the judge brought them to agree to a compromise on all financial matters.
This woman – according to what I heard from other people, as well as from her husband – did not behave in accordance with the halacha as regards keeping Shabbat or other religious obligations... She dressed provocatively in public, worse than a common harlot... She was accustomed to kiss strange men in public and danced in nightclubs late into the night with [other] men.
Even when the rabbis sought to bring peace between her and her husband, she agreed only on condition that a) she would able to break Shabbat if she so wished, while the husband would maintain Sabbath observance with their children; b) that she could dress as she saw fit; c) she was free to mix with strange men as she wished.
For the sake of shalom-bayit (domestic peace) and for the children, the husband agreed to the first two conditions, but not to the last... He then turned to our Bet Din and [expressed the desire] to give her a get so that he would be finished with her.
“It appears that this woman, according to the way she presently dresses — as we have written above — transgresses Jewish law as is defined in the Shulkhan Arukh, where it states that in such circumstances the husband must divorce the wife and that (according to another version) the husband can divorce her against her will... It is also clear to me that she has played the harlot, despite her claim that no one has been able to prove this; rather this seems to be because of a lack of time [this is rabbinic shorthand for the lack of the right circumstances or opportunity as opposed to a lack of will] or perhaps because she could find no one prepared to commit the immoral act with her.”
“The rationale for granting the get against her will is not the reason for the Bet Din acting like this [ie on her behalf]. Rather, it is because it is permissible to divorce her after the ban of Rabbenu Gershom [which states that she cannot be divorced against her will], in that her behaviour is not according to the Holy Torah, and that we are witness to the fact that the receiving of the get is
a good thing for her, as by receiving it she can be free of any forbidden act in the future.”